A Film Rumination: My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin (2007)

my winnepeg poster

9.25/10 (masterpiece)

Where to start?  At one time in my life I hid from the words “palimpsest”, “city”, “meditation”, and even, “experimental.”  Then I watched Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, read some Borges, picked at the juicy bits of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities — moved to Austin, Texas — rooted around in the dark corners of the silent film section of Vulcan Video or I Love Video with a dear friend — learned that film acting came from theater acting (this might seem obvious) — eventually concluded that I’m less interested in silent film than deliberate homages/manipulations of the genre (silent film with SOUNDS) — was lectured (by the above friend) that theory, however egregious the product might be (think some pieces of modern art) can still be intriguing (I seem to remember the statement, “I just want to collect the art manifestos, not the art”).

So after my tangential outpouring, I arrive, at the statement: Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is not self-indulgent tripe but rather an occasionally meditative, but above all, moving masterpiece that revels (and I mean REVELS GLEEFULLY) in the vicissitudes and meanderings of that delightful word, memory….

One might ask, who is Guy Maddin?  He’s one of those mysterious/elusive film directors (in product and personal life) in the vein of The Brothers Quay or Peter Greenaway.  A Canadian who completely eschews Hollywood, retreats to dark corners, creating dark little gems, that prod and provoke, that explore occasionally taboo subjects with delightful glee and evident technical mastery.  He’s one who conjures ancient forms (in Guy Maddin’s case, silent film) and manipulates those cinematic forms (no form is sacred!) in bizarre ways…

Guy Maddin = frequent short cuts, grainy images, manipulated lenses, black and white, title cards, sections where the actors talk, sections where we can’t hear them, stilted/wooden acting (a la silent film).  Expect journeys through the perverse, the nostalgic, unsettling nostalgic journeys through the perverse (for example, his films Cowards Bend the Knee or the Blue Hands, Brand upon the Brain!, The Heart of the World, etc).

MyWinnipegLarge1.jpg image by Jedimoonshyne9

My Winnipeg is not only Guy Maddin’s most “mainstream” and least controversial in content film but also BY far his best.  But be warned, read up on Maddin before you embark!  One particularly misinformed (dare I say, brainless?) reviewer wrote, “I did not learn anything about Winnipeg…”   I wince and mutter, “you missed the point entirely.”  My Winnipeg is a pseudo-documentary.  We are glimpsing memories which the viewer is completely unable to differentiate (do we need to?) as true or false or even constructed from other memories.

Maddin mixes bizarre “historical” events (a horse and ice flow that fosters a baby boom, the destruction of an ice hockey rink), with “memories” and fantastical stories about his youth (being born during a hockey game, etc), unusual activities (man pageants, seances carried out by various prostitutes with the spirit of the bison and Winnipeg’s mayor), and weird “facts” about Winnipeg (the hidden alleys and hermaphroditic streets, collecting signs, Native American slums on the roof tops beneath the signs for old theme parks)….

Not only does Maddin pull all his visual tricks, but his story telling (entirely episodic in this case) is at the top of his game.

Previously, I’ve always found that Guy Maddin’s style works best in short film format (The Heart of the World, Sombra Dolorsa, for example).  However, My Winnipeg is perfect at 80 minutes.  As always, I have some qualms about some of the content — for example, “the lap” — but, in NO WAY does it detract from the spectacle that unfolds.  Absolutely stunning….

Guy Maddin wanders through that sign graveyard — each signifies something…

each sign, a story

cobbled (and invented) memory.

29 thoughts on “A Film Rumination: My Winnipeg, Guy Maddin (2007)

  1. I’m definitely going to check this out this weekend. I think this’ll be a perfect movie to watch with a glass of iced absinthe!

  2. I suggest you check out on youtube his most famous short film ‘The Heart of the World’ so you can experience his style. However, ‘My Winnipeg’ is substantially more refrained and the cuts are somewhat longer…

  3. i loved that clip. incredible. I feel like i’ve seen that before but i know i haven’t. he’s completely tapped into some primordial circuit board. can’t wait to see the movie. i noticed too on netflix that i can stream 4 of his other movies too.

  4. This sounds very interesting to me, but I’m afraid my wife has a bit more mainstream tastes in movies. Brazil was okay for her, but when I go to things like… oh I don’t know… let’s say Bergman films… I lose her.

    Would I be safe trying this on her, or should I leave it for a point where she is away?

  5. i have procured a bottle of Lucid absinthe and will watch the film Saturday.My wife is suspicious of the absinthe, but looking forward to the movie.

  6. yea, it was $85 for the absinthe. its supposed to be the 1800s absinthe, not the Pernod version of the 1900s. Can’t wait!

  7. Well, thankfully I only had a small glass of absinthe, because if I had had another I would have got sick. I like absinthe–you have to find the right mix with the water (no sugar, thank you) and its got to be real, real cold with small (crushed but not too much so) ice cubes. The last time I had some real absinthe was 25 years ago; when I took my first sip today, it transported me right back there. It puts me in a dream-like state where everything seems brighter and happy.

    Anyway, the absinthe really took hold right at the seance scene in the movie and that was perfect. That and the scene with Citizen Girl were my favorites. There wasn’t really anything I didn’t like about it. Somewhere in there he mentioned how people from Winnipeg are nostalgic. I think I have to watch it again because these images keep popping in my head like the horses, the swimming pools, the old hockey players, the sleepwalkers . . .

  8. After reading your review of My Winnipeg, I dug out a copy of Archangel (1990) which I’d yet to watch and was delighted at what I saw. I can’t wait to track down a copies of all of Maddin’s films. He’s definitely going on my must watch everything he’s made list!

  9. Klaus: Cool! This one is his best! Then I recommend Brand Upon the Brain!… his breakneck style is somewhat irritating in Brand Upon the Brain! but is tamed somewhat in My Winnipeg…

  10. My Winnipeg – Brilliant! While it may be one of Maddin’s more mainstream films, it is still pretty out there! Needless to say, I was not disappointed. I love the blending of fact and fiction. I cannot think of a finer made Canadian film.

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